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Work and Family

Theoretical Paradigms Of Work And Family

Paid work has been conceptualized in various ways. Paid work typically consists of activities for which one receives remuneration or that an individual performs while occupying a position in an organization. This does not take into account the work that is unpaid and outside the formal economy.

Research on paid work and family life typically fits into one of two categories, depending on whether one focuses on the workplace or the family (Crouter 1994). Six different conceptual models representing multiple disciplines are presented: the separate spheres model, the multiple roles model, the job demands model, the spillover/crossover model, compensation theory, and an interactive model.

Separate spheres model. The separate spheres model sees family and work as distinctive systems, with the family as a domestic haven for women and work as a public arena for men (Zedeck 1992). Further, family and work should remain separate in order to function properly and the division of labor by sex should be maintained in order to avoid conflict. Although the separate spheres model is rarely used by social scientists in the United States and other industrialized nations today, it still informs the personal decisions as well as policy positions of individuals or countries that embrace more traditional family norms.

Multiple roles model (also known as the conflict perspective [Bowen 1991]). The precursor of the multiple roles approach was early research of the effects of wives' and mothers' employment on marital adjustment, power, and division of labor, as well as on child outcomes (Pleck 1995). The multiple roles perspective shifts from a special focus on wives' employment to viewing wives' employment as only one special case of a broader phenomenon, the possible occupancy of multiple roles by persons of either sex. Although the multiple roles perspective is broader than the older "wives' employment" approach, the multiple roles perspective does not incorporate contextual effects concerning, for example, the actual nature of the job held.

Job demands model. In the job demands model, negative outcomes on marital adjustment and other family variables are interpreted as a function of the structural demands (number, scheduling, and flexibility of work hours) and the psychological demands (pace of work, workplace conflicts, negative moods generated at work) of the jobs individuals hold. Underlying the job demands model is an implicit belief that the job demands most impinging on family life derive from a social organization of work that is structured rather arbitrarily. For example, if a study finds that long hours are associated with family stress, the interpretation made is that reducing hours would benefit families. Nevertheless, if the same study finds that having preschool children in the household is correlated with stress, no one draws the implication that families could or should reduce their stress by not having children.

Spillover/crossover model. Unlike the separate sphere model, which denies the connection between family and work, this model recognizes that either system may have spillover effects on the other (Staines 1980). Simultaneous membership in the two systems often entails strain and overload for individuals, families, and work units. In general, the spillover effects model shifts attention from the effects of social institutions on each other to the effects of family members on each other, ignoring the social and political consequences of the context in which family and work are located.

Compensation theory. This theory is the one most often contrasted with spillover (Zedeck 1992). It hypothesizes that there is an inverse relationship between work and family such that work and non-work experiences tend to be antithetical. It further proposes that individuals make differential investments of themselves in the two settings (Champoux 1978), so that what is provided by one makes up for what is missing in the other (Evans and Bartolome 1984). Deprivations experienced in work are made up or compensated for in nonwork activities.

Interactive model. The interactive model "recognizes the mutual interdependence between family and work systems, taking into account the reciprocal influences of work and family and acknowledging their independent as well as their joint effects, directly and indirectly, on the psychological state and social conditions of individuals" (Chow and Berheide 1988, p. 25). Analyses utilizing the interactive model to describe system interdependence between family and work can be divided into two main types—Marxist and non-Marxist.

Marxists treat family and work as economic units and study their linkages to the larger economy. Non-Marxists tend to see family and work as social systems or structural units and examine the specific circumstances under which occupational and familial roles intersect.

These six models represent the various multi-disciplinary and multitheoretical lenses through which issues related to work and family have been and are currently examined. They also illustrate the multiple and complex links between work and family spheres.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaModern Marriage & Family IssuesWork and Family - Theoretical Paradigms Of Work And Family, Historical Context And New Patterns, Links Between Work And Family